CAMDEN, N.J. — Al Horford says he did not spend his All-Star break mulling over his role on the Sixers.
He went to Florida, attended a court naming ceremony in Gainesville for his former college coach, Billy Donovan, and stepped away from professional basketball for a few days.
Wednesday, he returned to practice with his teammates and dutifully fielded questions.
Has he been given an indication that he’ll continue to come off the bench?
“I believe so,” he said.
How does he feel about that?
“It’s what the team needs right now,” Horford said, “and that’s what we’re doing.”
Head coach Brett Brown confirmed he’ll stick with what worked in the Sixers’ win last Tuesday over the Clippers, when Horford had been a bench player for the first time since 2007.
I think that for the moment we're going to try to throw that rotation as you saw against the Clippers,” he said. “With 27 games left, my mindset is to take this next period of time — seven, 10, whatever games — and really get precise and purposeful with our rotation, and then take that run home and polish it up.
“I think that 27 games is an eternity by NBA standards, and so there'll be a portion of what I just said that we want to crystallize the rotation, give thought and reward competition to some of the things that are still competitive. And then in that run home, final 20 games, 15 games, just tighten stuff up. And in my experience doing this, there is ample enough time to pull off what I just said.
As for who will take Horford's spot in the starting lineup, Brown said, “at times it’ll be dependent upon matchups.”
Furkan Korkmaz started last Tuesday, while Glenn Robinson III opened the second half. Brown seemed to indicate Alec Burks can be taken off the list of possible candidates in articulating how he plans to use the 28-year-old.
“Alec needs to be put in a situation where he can score,” Brown said. “I’m looking at him as sort of an instant offense type off the bench. He can be given the ball, he can be put in pick-and-rolls. I like him more probably in the middle of the floor with a pick-and-roll than a sideline with a pick-and-roll. I think that he can be a primary ball carrier for a while. … I feel like his primary role and his primary asset, his skill set is he can score.”
Horford does not think his responsibilities will shift dramatically. He played 28 minutes Tuesday, about three below his season average. Most notably, only nine of those minutes were with Joel Embiid. Before the Clippers game, Embiid and Horford had shared the floor for 14.3 minutes per game and had the worst offensive rating (98.7) and worst net rating (minus-1.1) of any two-player Sixers pairing with at least 300 minutes together this season.
“I don’t think it changes much, to be honest,” he said. “I’m going out there and defensively, setting the tone for our group, making sure that I’m helping people on the defensive end. And offensively, wherever I get my spots, make plays or be ready to shoot. It’s pretty much the same.”
Tobias Harris was unsurprised by Horford’s matter-of-fact approach to no longer starting.
“Just a professional,” he said. “Everything we’ve already known about him. As a group and as a team, we’re still trying to figure it out, see what works best. Just to have that mentality and be able to do what could be a great move for our team and see if it works, it just shows a winning attitude, winning mentality. We’ll see if it works.”
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